When pupils arrive in the UK from another country, it can be overwhelming, to say the least – new structures, new routines, new expectations – and, of course, learning in a new language.
Some pupils may arrive almost fluent in English, while others barely have a word. Equally, even those who speak English well may have poor written English.
With many schools experiencing a changing demographic, how can we best support those who are new to our schools? Being privileged to work with an outstanding EAL coordinator, Stephen Capon, within my department, here are the top tips we have taken on board.
Supporting new EAL learners in schools
1. EAL does NOT necessarily mean SEND
Too often, schools rush to place pupils arriving with EAL into groups with a heavy special educational needs and disability slant. This can seem a good idea at first, because pupils with SEND benefit from a curriculum that has been slowed down and simplified.
However, placing a pupil whose only "need" is English language acquisition into a set like this runs a real risk of holding those pupils back.
What happens when they are moved up? The sudden acceleration of expectation can cause a crisis of confidence – not to mention the detrimental impact on those in the SEND group who watch others "graduate" to a "harder" class.
2. Specialist equipment
No, I am not talking about a fancy translation programme – but the simple mini whiteboard. Here, the use of a mini whiteboard provides a link between talking and writing, allowing pupils to try out, rehearse and practise before speaking.
Many EAL pupils, Capon explains, won’t offer answers in class even if they have the right answer for fear of making grammatical errors.
Another key tool in your EAL arsenal is the humble Post-It. Prepared in advance with key vocabulary, this can then be a prompt for writing or used for a differentiation task such as to produce a sentence verbally or in writing, using the words provided.
3. Class chanting
The best teaching is inclusive, and cultivating a culture in which everyone is held to the same expectations is key to EAL success.
Class chanting can feel awkward to start with but is worth persevering with – all pupils benefit from this strategy, but EAL pupils the most: they feel "in the know" once they understand the familiarity of it; it boosts their long-term retrieval; and, most importantly, they are not singled out.
Using this strategy allows you to know that all of your pupils are using the target vocabulary, which your EAL pupils need to get to grips with the most.
Having witnessed our EAL specialist in action doing this with pupils, it is a joy to behold: he will start with a few words from a line from Macbeth and pupils will chorus it back. It works with definitions, too: he may call "oxymoron!" and almost be deafened in the reply giving him the meaning.
4. Pre-teach and prompt
A strategy brought in by our EAL specialist that has been transformative for our early-acquisition EAL pupils was the idea of pre-teaching questions and answers for retrieval within lessons.
This works because it allows pupils to feel confident and as though they have a sense of credibility amongst their peers during a lesson.
To make it even more effective, plan these as far in advance as possible so that pupils are given the questions (and co-planned answers) to practise in any withdrawal sessions they have.
This spaced retrieval means the questions and answers are more likely to stick, boosting not only their spoken English but also the information they need for success in the exams.
5. Think about seating
Ensure your EAL pupil is seated next to a role model when it comes to speech – those with clear enunciation, intonation and grammar are good learning buddies.
Obviously, you will be role-modelling all of this yourself, too, as part of the teacher standards, but ensuring that any discussion tasks are taking place with a native speaker who can be relied upon to be articulate means more exposure to the language for your EAL pupil to pick up on.
Try not to be surprised, though, when your EAL pupil suddenly comes out with the slang of the day!
Laura May Rowlands is head of faculty for English and literacy at Woodlands Community College in Southampton